What Does the Mild Winter Mean for Spring

March 11, 2024
By Jake Newhall, Director of Water Resources, Mary Newman, Sr Environmental Scientist, and Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager, WSB

As Midwesterners, we always expect Mother Nature to throw us some curveballs when it comes to weather. The winter of 2023-2024 has been no exception. El Nino weather patterns created unusually mild weather this winter and less snowfall. While cities may have benefited from things like fewer snow emergencies, what do these weather patterns mean as we head into spring?

Here are a few things to consider.

Stormwater Runoff

The lack of snowfall and warmer temperatures means that the ground is warmer than normal and contains less frost since there is not a layer of snow insulate the ground. The lack of precipitation and snowmelt could lead to drought this spring and into summer. Alternatively, if we do end up with significant snowfall in March and April, the thawed ground will allow water to absorb straight into the ground, resulting in less runoff and replenished groundwater sources.

If we don’t receive significant precipitation this spring, pond and lake levels are also expected to be lower than normal. While drought is a concern, the good news is that lower water levels provide an excellent opportunity for stormwater inspections. Other good news from a mild winter is that we are likely to see fewer environmental impacts this year from sanding, salting and runoff than in years with heavier snowfalls.

Lakes, Rivers and Streams

When thinking about water quality, it’s also important to think about what this mild winter will mean for lakes, rivers and streams.

Lack of snow cover and ice means that aquatic vegetation will have an early start this spring and likely result in an abundance, especially with invasive curly leaf pondweed. The increased abundance will have an impact on phosphorus levels in the water as these plants die back in the late summer. If the warm weather and low precipitation levels continue, this could mean a higher likelihood of harmful algal blooms which can put pets and animals when they drink the water. However, the increased cover may benefit the aquatic community in the meantime for those that depend on its cover for survival.

Many water managers have a plan for invasive curly leaf pondweed management. This year, harvest may have to occur earlier and more often to combat a late season phosphorus rise. As in most years, it will also be important to monitor algal blooms and inform lake users if sampling indicates harmful bacteria levels that would have an impact to human and animal health.

Trees and Invasive Species Management

For communities managing tree health, it’s also critical to explore how this year’s mild winter will impact trees. With many places in dry or moderate drought conditions, more trees will experience drought stress. If precipitation patterns continue, it’s important to build out a plan for regular watering throughout the summer to protect trees. Furthermore, drought stress and lack of adequate watering can make trees more susceptible to secondary pests.

The lack of subzero temperatures this winter also means that the invasive species Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) larva largely survived the winter. It takes 24-48 hours of temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit to kill EAB larva. EAB is a serious concern to ash trees across the United States, occurring in 30 states including Minnesota, Colorado, and Texas.

Oak wilt disease is another concern. The normal oak pruning season is typically from November through early April to prevent oak wilt transmission. For 2024, it will end earlier, oak tree pruning should be stopped immediately to protect tree health and limit the spread of oak wilt. The University of Minnesota Extension provides an oak wilt status page on their website that should be monitored closely each spring to ensure you aren’t pruning during high-risk oak wilt season.

How WSB Can Help

This unusually warm and dry winter is creating both problems and opportunities for communities – from managing water quality to protecting wildlife and native tree populations. WSB has a team of experts who can help plan and execute sustainable solutions that protect ecosystems, enhance water quality, restore habitats, and meet the unique needs of your community.

Jake has more than 15 years of engineering experience designing and managing many types of water resources projects, including modeling, planning, design, maintenance programs, and construction. Jake has worked with various municipalities, counties and state agencies to solve challenging water quality and water quantity problems.

[email protected] | 763.231.4861

Jake Newhall

Mary works as an environmental scientist where she provides reliable field data collection and reporting that includes: boat electrofishing fish surveys, water quality sampling, in stream fish sampling, physical stream barrier observations and maintenance, various techniques for rough fish removal, fish tagging and tracking, and aquatic habitat improvement recommendations.

[email protected] | 763.762.2858

Emily is a ISA Certified Arborist, MN Tree Inspector that brings 20 years of experience, primarily in community forestry. She has extensive experience in contract administration, management of staff, AmeriCorps members and contractors, budget and grant management, plan review, tree health and condition inspections, outreach and education. She works closely with partner organizations, staff, and the community to educate, manage natural resources and provide excellent customer service.

[email protected] | 651.318.9945

Scalable Renewable Energy

December 18, 2023

By Behnaz Beladi, Director of Renewable Energy, WSB

Exploring energy resources beyond fossil fuels.

It is no secret that our future is focused on resiliency, and many communities are shifting toward utilizing renewable energy components. Renewable natural gas, utility scale solar fields, community solar gardens and wind farms all help power communities throughout the U.S.

WSB supports communities from coast to coast and collaborates with diverse clients such a owners, developers and large energy contractors. The scope and scale of our renewable work includes a broad geography of clients and projects.

Renewable energy powers a substantial number of homes, and in a sustainable way. Having energy sources that are replenished by nature and produce little to no greenhouse gases or pollutants into the air is a big step toward living in a more resilient, net zero environment. One Megawatt (MW) of renewable energy can power up to 170 homes. The ability to offer this coverage is an advantage as we push toward a more sustainable future.

Renewable Natural Gas

Landfills, hog farm manure and more all are sources of methane. Through organic material decomposing, these items produce a gas that, when handled properly create a promising natural gas. Through a digester, a wastewater treatment plant, impurities can be extracted from the gas and turned into the renewable natural gas that is piped into our houses for daily functions such as heating the stove or furnace. WSB supports these projects in a variety of ways including helping clients get permits from the Public Utilities Commission, surveying, land acquisition and construction staking. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the potential for 8,241 livestock biogas systems that could generate over 13 million MW hours of energy yearly.

Utility Scale Solar

Typically hired by a large Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) firm, we support utility scale solar projects to provide solar design. These large solar fields vary from 3,000-5,000 acres, equivalent to about 30 miles of roadway and millions of miles of cubic dirt moved for the solar panels to be installed. With renewable energy on this large of a scale, these is the potential to power 250 MW, or about 50,000 homes. In addition to design, WSB provides a design-build partnership – offering construction support and the automation of construction when working on these projects.

Community Solar Gardens

Like utility scale solar, community solar gardens are a way to meet energy needs and are the best fit for smaller projects or clients. Community solar gardens are behind the meter projects constructed for midsized developers such as nonprofits, community-based organizations, tribes or private owners. In this instance, a community comes together to get solar energy rather than energy from the grid. Instead of using a large solar field, like utility scale solar, community solar gardens utilize small amounts of land and roof space to generate the power for the community. Depending on the state and jurisdiction, these projects often range in size and in how many Megawatts they supply, but typically range from one to ten megawatts.

Wind Farms

Wind turbines are very similar to solar fields in how they produce energy, but there are some differences. A key difference between the improved efficiency of wind farms and solar panels is that wind turbines can provide energy at all hours of the day. Wind farms also allow producers to maintain their land and continue to use it for its original use. By utilizing wind turbines farmers can continue to operate on the land – a luxury that does not exist on solar sites. A single wind turbine can produce between 2-3 MW, providing between 340-510 homes with energy. From surveys, site assessments and permitting to design, WSB can support your wind energy needs.

Renewable natural gas, utility scale solar fields, community solar gardens and wind farms all support communities across the country with sustainability at the forefront. As society continues to shift toward a future of resiliency and explore resources beyond traditional fossil fuels, living in a net zero environment becomes more attainable. WSB is proud to offer a variety of services and many subject matter experts to assist in the transition and better your community.

Behnaz is a lead solar engineer and manager specializing in utility scale, commercial and residential solar design. She is mindful of and knowledgeable about all local state and federal environmental rules and regulations and adept at explaining complex technical engineering concepts clearly and accessibly to wide variety of professional and nonprofessional audiences.

[email protected] | 612.468.8423

Unprecedented $16M in Urban and Community Forestry Grants

August 14, 2023
By Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager, WSB

The Minnesota DNR has announced two forestry grants available for urban & community forestry activities. Neither grant requires a match, in fact you aren’t even encouraged to provide match information, which is new this year and a great time saver when it comes to reporting. Each grant is up to $500,000, with no minimum request and covers different activities.  

Eligible applicants include non-profit organizations with 501(c)(3) status and local units of government in Minnesota, including cities, counties, regional authorities, joint powers boards, towns and tribal. Parks and recreation boards in cities of the first class are also eligible to apply.  Unfortunately, funding is not available through these grants for school districts. Like previous grants, there is a list of five criteria that applicants will obtain extra points for meeting, such as using credentialed staff or consultants, benefiting underserved populations and areas of concern for environmental justice, communities with populations under 20,000, prioritizing EAB, and maintaining or increasing tree canopy cover.

The first grant is through ReLeaf funding. This grant covers a long list of activities. Injections and removal/replacement of ash trees is included, but also more activities than just EAB, such as maintenance pruning. Through this grant for the first time, cities can apply for funding to help their low-income residential property owners with tree work. Additionally, grant funding can cover staff time, which is a new feature.

The second grant is through Shade tree program bonding and the emphasis is primarily tree removal and stump grinding to make space for new trees to be planted. New this year, if you are removing infested ash in wooded areas, you will not be required to replant 1:1.

Here is a break down on each grant with examples of what they cover, and details on when applications are due. Both grants will go through 2027.

ReLeaf community forestry grants, 2023-2027 – $6.883 million in grants for local units of government and non-profit organizations in Minnesota that encourage and promote the inventory, planting, assessment, maintenance, treatment, improvement, protection and restoration of trees and forest resources to enhance community forest health and sustainability, reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and promote energy conservation.
Deadline: September 18, 2023.

Shade tree program bonding grants, 2023-2027 – $10.063 million in grants for local units of government in Minnesota that are planning to replace trees lost to forest pests, disease, or storm; or to establish a more diverse community forest better able to withstand disease and forest pests.
Deadline: October 2, 2023.

DNR staff offered a webinar, and the recording is now online. There are still two opportunities to attend sessions to learn more on 8/15 in Marshall and one on 8/16 in St. Paul. For more about the grants, and to learn about the listening sessions:  Community forestry | Minnesota DNR (state.mn.us) If you would like assistance with formulating a grant project, acquiring estimates for work and writing a grant, please contact Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager at [email protected] or 651-318-9945.  Emily is an ISA Certified Arborist (#4284A) and has had extensive experience applying for grants like these in her city forester roles with Minnetonka and Lakeville. She is already working with several cities to target their grant applications strategically.

Emily is a ISA Certified Arborist, MN Tree Inspector that brings 20 years of experience, primarily in community forestry. She has extensive experience in contract administration, management of staff, AmeriCorps members and contractors, budget and grant management, plan review, tree health and condition inspections, outreach and education. She works closely with partner organizations, staff, and the community to educate, manage natural resources and provide excellent customer service.

[email protected] | 651.318.9945

How Communities Can Prepare for Minnesota’s New Native Landscaping Law

August 14, 2023
By Alison Harwood, Director of Natural Resources, Kim Lindquist, Director of Community Planning & Economic Development and Jason Amberg, Director of Landscape Architecture, WSB

Native landscaping is growing in popularity, from pollinator-friendly plants and prairie grasses to rain gardens. Now the state of Minnesota passed a new law, effective July 1 of this year, that requires municipalities to allow property owners and occupants to install and maintain managed natural landscapes.

What are the pros and cons of this new law, and what does it mean for cities? Here are some things to consider.

What are the benefits of native landscaping?

Native landscaping covers a spectrum of options that includes a variety of landscaping. This could mean including only plant materials that grow naturally within the region to combinations that blend some areas of native plantings with some areas of manicured lawns or ornamental landscapes. Introducing native plant communities can provide critical resources for pollinators and provide a place for certain species to hibernate in winter. Rain gardens can help manage stormwater run off and reduce chemical runoff.

In addition to the natural benefits, there are economic benefits as well. Native landscaping reduces the need for irrigation and watering as plants are often more drought resistant. There are also cost savings from reduced fertilizer and chemical usage, as well as reduced maintenance costs.

How are native landscapes maintained?

The new Minnesota statute clearly states that native landscapes must be well-maintained, but what does that mean? In the statute, managed natural landscape is defined as a planned, intentional, and maintained planting of native or nonnative grasses, wildflowers, forbs, ferns, shrubs or trees, including but not limited to rain gardens, meadow vegetation and ornamental plants.

When thinking about a traditional manicured lawn, maintenance includes regular mowing throughout the spring and summer, regular watering when it gets dry and the application of fertilizers and herbicides. Then in fall, landscapes are often cleaned to remove dead plants and leaf litter.

For native landscapes, however, there is far less maintenance and plants often grow quite tall. In fact, the new law allows native grasses to grow taller than 8 inches high. Plus, as the weather turns cold, it’s better to leave the lawn and dead vegetation in place, providing quality habitat for wintering animals and insects.

What does this ordinance mean for local governments across Minnesota?

While many cities have adopted ordinances in the past decade allowing native landscaping, many others have ordinances prohibiting native landscaping or yards to have grass taller than 8 inches. This new state law supersedes local law, and it is important that communities update ordinances to comply with state statute.

Moreover, ordinance changes often take at least 60-90 days, so it’s important to act before next spring when many residents will begin lawn maintenance and planting. This ensures residents have a clear direction from the city.

Managing Public Engagement and Education

With this new law, there are a few issues local communities must navigate to ensure residents feel heard and legal requirements are made clear.

For residents concerned about unkempt lawns or who prefer neighborhoods to have a more manicured look, it’s important to communicate the benefits of native landscaping for the community and residents. Moreover, residents should be educated that while native grass and plants can grow taller than 8 inches, traditional manicured lawns cannot. And whether having natural landscaping or manicured lawns, noxious weeds are not allowed by this law change. Cities can and will still be enforcing unkempt lawns that do not meet state and local law requirements.

Educational community meetings, handouts, guidance on websites, and social media campaigns are all ways that cities can effectively communicate with residents about the new native landscaping laws.

How WSB Can Help

If you’re a city leader who needs help navigating ordinance changes around this new statute, WSB’s team can help.

Our landscaping team can also help clients design and build native landscaping into their public or private spaces, offering solutions that are aesthetically striking, environmentally friendly and economically beneficial.

Native landscaping is growing in popularity, helping bring people and nature closer together.

Alison leads the Natural Resources group. Her experience includes work in the natural resources field, including wetland and avian surveys, permitting, alternatives analysis, and environmental documentation for projects in both the public and private sector.

[email protected] | 612.360.1320

Kim is a planning professional with over 30 years of experience overseeing a variety of complex planning projects. She has worked in high growth communities with developers and the public on entitlements for residential development and attracting business to the city.

[email protected] | 763.287.8303

Kim Lindquist

Jason is the Director of Landscape Architecture at WSB with more than 25 years of experience in public space planning and design. From small-scale neighborhood park improvements to comprehensive park and trail system plans, Jason has worked with park boards, municipalities, governing agencies and community residents.

[email protected] | 612.518.3696

Jason Amberg

Environmental Stewardship and Infrastructure: What Project Leaders Need to Know About Protected Species

July 18, 2023

By Alison Harwood, Director of Natural Resources

When it comes to infrastructure projects’ impact on local environments, understanding how a project could affect native species – including those that trigger Section 7 consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), is critical. Section 7 consultation impacts any project with a federal nexus – meaning it receives federal funding, requires a federal permit, will be built on federal land, etc.

Those building the infrastructure of tomorrow want to protect our environment today.

Here are some considerations when navigating the Endangered Species Act to ensure projects are completed efficiently and without undue regulatory delay.  

What ESA protected species have the most significant impact on infrastructure projects?

One recent species of note impacting many projects is the northern-long eared bat, which was recently moved from a threatened to endangered species by the USFWS. The bats, which make their habitat in the cavities and crevices of trees, affect projects that require tree removal in certain parts of the country. Because almost every major infrastructure project requires tree removal, this recent designation is altering timelines and planning for many projects.

In the Midwest, the rusty patched bumble bee, which lives in sandy, wooded areas, also affects many projects. Because of where the bees winter, it limits the season in which many projects can move forward.

The type of species that could impact a project depends heavily upon what region of the country the project is in, what ecosystems are impacted, and the kind of project.

How is it determined if a project would harm ESA protected species?

Every project has an impact on the local environment, no question, but the USFWS considers a project through the lens of how it could adversely affect a protected species. That could mean killing, injuring, disturbing habitat, or modifying a creature’s natural behavior.

What tools are best to help determine what impact a project will have on ESA protected species?

The USFWS provides an Information for Planning and Consultation (IPaC) tool that can search by county. From there, project managers can see any federally protected species in the county, as well as their habitat.

Just because a species is protected in a county, doesn’t mean the project will be affected by the ESA.  For example, IPaC review of a project in Hennepin County, Minnesota would flag protected species in the Mississippi River. If a project is not near the Mississippi River, it’s unlikely that the project would affect protected river species. So, the type of project and where it’s located within a county plays a significant role.

What’s more, as project leaders plan, many are incorporating meaningful environmental stewardship components into projects, like planting native species, for example, which help mitigate negative impacts and bolster ecosystems.

Acting Early is Critical for Project Success.  

Timelines vary based on a project, its location, and species affected. Components of a project may be limited to certain seasons when a species isn’t present, which is known as an “avoidance measure.” Moreover, for some ESA species, you may only be able to survey during limited periods of the year, and if you miss that opportunity, you must wait until the timeframe comes back around again. Ensuring you are on top of timelines prevents unnecessary project delays. Permitting could also require a longer, more complicated process if avoidance measures cannot be taken. That may mean getting a “take permit” – a process which can take a year or more.

Starting an evaluation early means having a better understanding of what is required under the ESA and helps avoid undue delays or regulatory surprises.

Planning early, getting information as soon as possible on how a project impacts protected species, looking at the best season for a project, and coordinating with regulatory agencies will ensure a project is ahead of the curve.  

Alison is a Senior Environmental Scientist and leads the Natural Resources group. She has over 11 years of experience in the natural resources field, including wetland and avian surveys, permitting, alternatives analysis, and environmental documentation for projects in both the public and private sector. She has coordinated with permitting and environmental review agencies on several large transportation projects and has developed relationships with regulators and a depth of knowledge of the regulations that help expedite the permitting process.

Natural Resources water testing

Managing Data and Technology to Improve Resilience in Natural Resources

June 12, 2023
By Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manger and Bill Alms, Project Manager, WSB

WSB understands the importance of managing natural resources in cities. As cities grow and expand, managing natural resources, such as waterways, forests, and green spaces, can be complex and daunting. However, by leveraging smart technologies and innovative approaches, cities can make informed decisions and ensure the resilience and sustainability of their natural resources.

Data Collection

The first step in managing natural resources in a smart city is to know what resources you have before starting a project. This involves taking an inventory, analyzing, and determining the critical first steps. Once this information is collected, organizing it for informed decision-making is essential. GIS and WSB’s Datafi software can assist with developing base inspection forms and identifying trends.

Budgeting

One of the challenges of managing natural resources in a smart city is dealing with a vast amount of data. To make sense of it all, it’s crucial to migrate data in a way that allows for informed decisions. Budgeting for the ongoing management of natural resources and creating a budget cycle is also necessary. In the context of natural resources, this means collecting initial data on what resources need to be managed. For instance, stormwater asset management programs can predict when stormwater ponds need maintenance and how much it would cost. WSB offers a program called SWAMP – Storm Water Asset Management Program which is a web-based app that allows for customized prioritization of annual storm water BMP inspection and maintenance activities that can help drive budget planning. 

It’s essential to note that data cannot be static in a smart city and should be continually updated based on what’s happening in the field. Many data applications allow for smart phone or tablet updates in the field by staff. This approach allows cities to avoid constantly reinvesting in data gathering.

How WSB can help

Managing natural resources is a challenging task. However, by leveraging smart technologies and innovative approaches, cities can make informed decisions and ensure the sustainability and resilience of their natural resources. WSB can assist cities in identifying the best way to store and manage data, budget, make strategic decisions, coordinate with state agencies, diversify species, and promote climate-smart forestry and canopy cover. By taking these steps, cities can ensure their natural resources’ longevity for future generations.

Emily is a ISA Certified Arborist, MN Tree Inspector that brings 20 years of experience, primarily in community forestry. She has extensive experience in contract administration, management of staff, AmeriCorps members and contractors, budget and grant management, plan review, tree health and condition inspections, outreach and education. She works closely with partner organizations, staff, and the community to educate, manage natural resources and provide excellent customer service.

[email protected] | 651.318.9945

Bill is a project manager in WSB’s Water Resources Group serving clients with their water resources engineering needs. His experience includes planning, design, and construction management, research and inspection of municipal storm water systems, hydrologic, hydraulic, and water quality modeling, watershed permitting submittals, and development plan reviews. He is a technical resource in watershed policy, planning, and capital improvement budgeting.

[email protected] | 952.388.4188

Six Ways to Improve on No Mow May

May 15, 2023
By Andi Moffatt, Vice President of Environmental, WSB

WSB understands the importance of creating and maintaining healthy environments for residents and wildlife. While “No Mow May” is a well-intentioned campaign to improve the pollinator population, there are some more effective ways to protect natural habitats that cities and residents should be aware of and consider. There are several drawbacks that cities and residents should be aware of.

There are some pitfalls of “No Mow May” and several alternatives to protect pollinators:

  1. The research study that was the driving force behind the No Mow May was actually redacted because of inaccurate information about its effectiveness in attracting and protecting bees. Therefore, the effectiveness of this campaign on pollinators needs to be investigated.
  2. Not mowing the lawn may also create more trouble for the natural habitat by the growth of Kentucky Blue grass weeds, which are undesirable for healthy, thriving lawns.
  3. Residents participating in No Mow May may create a few headaches for neighbors and cities if they continue the no-mow theme into June. Not mowing the lawn throughout the summer could result in breeding grounds for mosquitoes, complaints from other residents in the neighborhood, and fines from the city for ordinance violations.
  4. Instead of participating in No Mow May, cities should educate the public on appropriately re-landscaping their yards to be more pollinator-friendly. Planting flowers and other plants that are native to the region in gardens or open spaces attract native bees and pollinator species to the area.
  5. Cities should encourage the reduction of chemical products on residents’ lawns. Overusing chemicals on lawns can kill off beneficial insects, contaminate soil and water, reduce food sources for pollinators, and increase susceptibility to disease.
  6. Use a public awareness campaign to remind residents of the enforcement of ordinances and communicate the facts versus myths of No Mow May. Additionally, ensure that city staff in publicly facing customer service roles are prepared to share this with residents who may inquire.

Cities and residents who want to do more to support their local habitats should learn about the many ways to help and be aware of catchy tactics that might actually do more harm than good. With sustainability as a core tenet of WSB’s work, WSB helps cities incorporate native landscapes into public spaces that cut down on maintenance costs and help the environment.

Andi is a Vice President with experience leading people and projects that include planning, environmental, energy, highway, natural resources, construction and development. She oversees our Environmental services and approaches her work with passion and positivity.

[email protected]m | 763.287.7196

How the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant Can Help States, Cities, Municipalities, and Tribes

March 13, 2023
Andi Moffat, VP of Environmental Services, WSB

Major infrastructure and spending packages passed in the last year by the federal government, including the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), are assisting communities across the country build a more sustainable, equitable and environmentally friendly future. There is a significant influx of dollars going into communities across the nation, and now is the time to ensure you do not miss out on these meaningful funding opportunities. 

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced eligibility requirements for its Climate Pollution Reduction Grant, and here is what community and tribal leaders should know about this grant program. 

The Climate Pollution Reduction Grant

The new Climate Pollution Reduction grant consists of $5 billion in funds and is broken up into two different phases. 

The first phase is a non-competitive planning phase where $250 million in grants will be made available to qualifying communities. This phase is all about collaborating across government entities, assessing greenhouse gas emissions, and climate planning.

  • States must submit a Notice of Intent to Participate to the EPA by March 31, 2023. The funding that State’s receive may be available for cities within those states for additional planning funding. Please watch for updates from your local State Pollution Control Agency. 
  • Cities within Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA’s) designated in the grant guidance may also be eligible when coordinating across the MSA. The lead entity for the MSA will need to submit a Notice of Intent to Participate for grants by April 28, 2023.
  • Tribal communities must coordinate with their EPA Regional Office soon to indicate interest in this funding.

While this is a non-competitive grant, an application is required. States must submit the application by April 28, 2023. MSA’s must submit the application by May 31, 2023. Tribal Nations must submit the application by June 15, 2023.

The second phase of the grants will have $4.6 billion available for project implementation for the year 2024 and beyond. It is important to note that to qualify for the second phase grants, communities must have received or been covered by the first phase planning grant either directly from the EPA or covered by your State grant. Applicants must have a System for Award Management (SAM) number and be registered in Grants.gov to apply for the grants. 

Funding Opportunities 

City planners, sustainability coordinators and local leaders can support a wide variety of planning and implementation projects with this grant funding. Projects can fall under a number of categories including transportation systems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, natural and working lands, resilient communities, and clean energy. 

Additionally, each project must have a diversity, equity and inclusion connection, so it’s critical that applicants carefully consider and understand how these projects impact BIPOC and low-income communities, improve underserved neighborhoods, or incorporate an environmental justice lens in the project. 

What To Do Right Now

This is a substantial and historic funding opportunity for communities and tribes, so be sure to submit a notice of intent by March 31 if a State, by April 28, 2023 if a large MSA, or to start coordination with your regional EPA Office if a Tribal Nation. Also check with your state Pollution Control Agency or equivalent as states will also receive funding.

If you are unsure where to start or how best to approach next stems, WSB is available for consultation, grant writing, and more. We can help partner with you to advance meaningful infrastructure and environmental improvement projects in your community. 

Andi is a Vice President with more than 23 years of experience leading people and projects that include planning, environmental, energy, highway, natural resources, construction and development. She oversees our Environmental services and approaches her work with passion and positivity.

[email protected]m | 763.287.7196

Protecting the Endangered Northern Long-Eared Bat: What It Could Mean for Your Project

March 13, 2023
By Lucas Wandrie, Sr Wildlife Ecologist, WSB

Northern long-eared bats are suffering significant population declines due to a number of factors including white-nose syndrome and summer and winter habitat loss. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently changed the status of the northern long-eared bat from federally threatened to endangered. The change will go into effect on March 31, 2023. Projects that may impact individual northern long-eared bats or their habitat will no longer be protected under the 4(d) Rule. These impacts include tree removal and collisions with wind turbines.

The full extent of how this new endangered designation will affect project schedules or project feasibility is still unknown. However, before the status change takes effect and the USFWS releases the new northern long-eared bat determination key, there are some key items to consider. 

What projects will be affected?

This change will apply to all projects within the northern long-eared bat’s range. If your project received a “No Effect” or “Not Likely to Affect” determination from the USFWS, it is still valid under the new restrictions. However, if your project received a “Likely to Adversely Affect” determination, coordination with the USFWS will have to be re-initiated. 

Suitable habitat of the northern long-eared bat includes trees that have cavities, sloughing bark, and deep crevices. Additionally, trees that are three inches or more in diameter at approximately chest height are potentially suitable habitats. Furthermore, individual trees can be considered suitable habitat if they are within 1000 feet of another suitable habitat. Understanding the habitat suitability of your project area is essential to follow USFWS guidelines and to avoid and minimize the risk of northern long-eared bat take.

So, what does this mean for my project?

The new implications of the status change will likely result in stricter windows and thresholds for tree removal. Northern long-eared bat surveys such as habitat assessments, presence/probable absence surveys, and emergence surveys may be required before tree removal or the construction of wind farms. There may also be mandated requirements and mitigation efforts for project-specific incidental take permits or habitat conservation plans. Projects may also need to further coordinate with the USFWS based on the results of the determination key.

Not sure of how this new designation will impact your project or where to start? 

At WSB, we conduct northern long-eared bat habitat assessments and surveys, complete incidental take permit applications, and develop habitat conservation plans to help your project move forward as smoothly as possible, while meeting the USFWS requirements. 

Lucas has over 15 years of experience in wildlife ecology and consulting. His specialties include providing desktop and field-based wildlife services for wind and solar projects and has supported the successful completion of these projects in 34 states.

[email protected] | 612.452.0540

MN Department of Natural Resource Grants for Emerald Ash Borer

January 12, 2023
By Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager, WSB

What is new in 2023?

The MN Department of Natural Resources recently released a new grant application to help local governments fund emerald ash borer management in 2023. Each grant cycle is funded a bit differently, may include different eligible activities, and extra priority points on different factors. Occasionally match requirements are waived and the match amount required varies.  If you represent a unit of local government OUTSIDE the Twin Cities, this is an excellent opportunity for you since this is the first grant cycle that is awarding priority points for those applicants outside the 7-County metropolitan area.

Who is Eligible?

  • All units of local government (cities, counties, regional authorities, joint powers boards, towns, tribal
  • Parks and recreation boards in cities of the first class (those with 100,000 residents or more)

What Activities Are Eligible?

  • Public tree inventories
  • Developing a management plan that includes Emerald Ash Borer as a component
  • Tree and stump removal and replanting
  • Tree Planting

What is the Timeline?

  • February 13, 2023 – Application questions due 
  • February 27, 2023 – Applications due
  • March 20, 2023, Project Selection, Grant Agreement Negotiation begins
  • July 1, 2023, Work Plans Approved, Contracts Executed, Grant Funded Work begins

How will they Prioritize Funding?

In this grant cycle, priority points will be awarded to:

  • Applicants outside the 7-County Twin Cities metropolitan area
  • Communities who have staff, plan to certify their staff during the grant period, or who will contract with companies with staff with professional tree care credentials (MN Tree Inspector, International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist, WSB, etc.)
  • Projects removing and replacing ash trees that pose significant public safety concerns
  • Projects that benefit underserved populations and areas of concern for environmental justice (communities with higher populations of low-income residents, or people of color including tribal communities or both)


Funding Details

The DNR has a total of $315,000 available in general fund dollars to fund projects managing forest pest and disease with a priority given to EAB on public lands. There is no minimum to the dollar amount applicants can request. The maximum award that will be funded per site is $50,000.

Applicants must include a 25% match of total project funds. The match can be in-kind (such as staff time, to administer the grant, time spent doing removals by in-house crews, technology, equipment used), cash match (such as money spent on ash tree injections by a contractor, re-planting projects by a contractor, or a mix of both. For grantees who are awarded the full $50,000 the match would be approximately $16, 600.

Looking for more information?

For more information on how WSB can help you formulate a project plan and prepare a strong grant application, contact Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager at 651-318-9945 or eball@wsbeng.com. 

Emily is a ISA Certified Arborist, MN Tree Inspector that brings 20 years of experience, primarily in community forestry. She has extensive experience in contract administration, management of staff, AmeriCorps members and contractors, budget and grant management, plan review, tree health and condition inspections, outreach and education. She works closely with partner organizations, staff, and the community to educate, manage natural resources and provide excellent customer service.

[email protected] | 651.318.9945